“For music, psychological depth is a goldmine of possibility,” reveals composer Ronit Kirchman about her work on the USA Network anthology crime drama “The Sinner.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Kirchman above.
“The Sinner” explores why a particular violent crime has been committed, setting the show apart from others in the genre by focusing on the characters’ motivations, backgrounds, desires and demons. It stars Bill Pullman as Detective Harry Ambrose, who investigates bizarre murder cases over season-long arcs from a uniquely empathetic point of view. Harry’s tortured past and emotional baggage weigh on him heavily as he identifies and uncovers the psychology behind a killer’s actions.
The show was developed by showrunner Derek Simonds as a limited series in 2017, delving into the troubled past of a young mother (played by Emmy nominee and executive producer Jessica Biel) who snaps and brutally murders a man without provocation. After proving to be a critical and commercial hit, USA Network renewed the show for a second and third season. Last season focused on a 13 year-old boy (Elisha Henig) who confesses to brutally poisoning a man and woman that he is traveling with. This season, Pullman returned opposite Emmy nominee Matt Bomer as a local high school teacher involved in a horrific car crash. The two leading men cross paths as Ambrose uncovers a hidden crime that pulls him into the most dangerous and disturbing case of his career.
Just like how “The Sinner” aims to set itself apart from other thrillers, a key to unlocking the show’s dramatic underscore is how it often employs certain cues and themes that appropriately evoke a palpable sense of dread, grief and anxiety rather than lean on familiar musical tropes we might expect from the genre. For Kirchman, this has meant that composing the show’s music has been particularly challenging because some of the heavy lifting on that aspect of the show is hers, as the music shifts between creepy ambient melancholy and propulsive unnerving fear.
“As a composer, I am always trying to find a new way of saying something,” Kirchman explains. “I think that we have many archetypal stories that recur in human storytelling and the ones that really resonate with people tend to be the ones that present resonant material in a new or fresh way. Derek and I were both on the same page about not wanting to rely on familiar tropes, but also maintain an awareness of the genre,” she says. “There’s a big focus on building tension, pacing and creating the impact. We’re looking for ways to renew and subvert, not just because, but also because it makes a more effective story hopefully, that is more engaging, when looking for that sonic signature of the drama.”
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